The majority of thru-hikers are solo (and male), but there are actually quite a few hiking couples (and solo women) on the long trails! Hiking with a partner can offer many advantages, but it also comes with some unique challenges. Paul and I had lived together for over five years when we started our thru-hike – married for three – but never had we spent so much uninterrupted time together. Every action one of us took impacted the other in some minor or major way. This took some adjusting. However, so long as both parties are patient, willing to adapt, and have a strong desire to complete the trail, couples have some real benefits over solo hikers.
First and foremost, hiking couples have some major weight saving opportunities. By carrying only one tent, one stove, one water filter, one bear line, one guidebook, first aid kit and trowel. This means that hiking couples typically have a lower base weight (pack weight before consumables such as food and water) than solo hikers do. If you are one half of a hiking couple, you might have a little extra room/weight for a luxury item or two, or you can simply enjoy a lighter pack weight.
One other major advantage for couples is the ability to split camp chores. One person can filter water while the other sets up the tent, for example. At the end of a long day, this made our solo friends quite jealous. It did take us some time to work out how we preferred to divide up the chores (and a fight or two), but it didn’t take long to get a great system going. On those days one of us was feeling particularly tired or not well, the other one could handle the chores to allow the other to rest. That was a huge bonus.
Different hiking styles might be one of the biggest challenges of hiking with a partner. If one person is a faster hiker, the other will always be struggling to keep up. Typically the faster hiker will allow the slower one to set the pace. Some days we took this approach, other days we would allow the other person to hike ahead a bit (just not too far ahead). I might hike uphill faster than Paul, but I’ll wait for him at the top, or he’ll pass me on the way down. Eventually, as our fitness levels improved, our paces naturally became much more in sync.
Another challenge for couples can be different expectations regarding how far to hike in a day. On the Appalachian Trail, we struggled for several weeks in Virginia trying to hit a 20-mile day. Mostly, I wanted us to pass 20 miles, and Paul didn’t think he could do it. Every day after 19 miles he would be too tired to go farther. Then one day, we hiked with a solo hiker for most of the day. We walked and talked, and made a really great pace. She was planning to do 100 miles in 4 days, and was currently on her 3rd day. She shared a few strategies with us for getting a few extra miles in, and by the end of the day, we’d gone 23 miles. After that, we hiked 20 mile days without problem pretty much whenever we felt like it. At least until the Whites in NH. Most of our seemingly physical limitations are often actually mental ones. Our next challenge is to break 30 miles on the PCT.
One day in New York on the AT, I fell and sprained my wrist. Paul was there to wrap it up and carry some of my weight while we hiked into town. Having another person there for emotional support on a down day is a huge benefit to hiking with a partner. When one person is having a bad day, the other person can pick up the slack and make their day a little bit easier.
The companionship couples share on trail can be a blessing and a curse. It can be challenging to be in the constant company of another person. A tent is a small space to share for months on end. However, despite always being within shouting distance of one another, we spent plenty of time hiking quietly with our own thoughts, or listening to headphones. We made sure to get a tent with 2 vestibules so that we each had our own area to store and organize our gear. On the flip side, the constant companionship and shared challenges of the trail can really bring two people closer together. We really started to feel like a team on our hike: we had shared goals and we pushed one another when necessary. We got rained on and snowed on together. We tromped through mud together and we crossed streams together. We climbed over rocks and through fallen trees together. We hiked 2189 miles together. We have more confidence in ourselves and more trust in one another. But we still drive each other crazy sometimes too!
As we now prepare to head out for our thru-hike attempt on the PCT, we are confident in how we work/hike together. We’ve gotten lighter gear that is aimed toward couples, so we will both have less weight on our backs to allow us to hike more miles each day. But more importantly, we are both confident in our capabilities and our desire to hike the entire trail. 65 days to go!!